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Women in Fire Protection Engineering
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From the Technical Director
Women in Fire Protection Engineering

By Morgan J. Hurley, P.E., FSPE | Fire Protection Engineering

Even with the current downturn in the global economy, the demand for fire protection engineers continues to out-pace the supply. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the only change for recent graduates with degrees in fire protection engineering is that where five years ago they had 5-7 job offers in their choice of geographic area, they now may need to consider moving when they accept a job.

On January 16, 2003, the SFPE conducted a "summit" to identify strategies for increasing the size of the qualified fire protection engineering workforce. This "summit" was attended by leaders in the public and private sectors, as well as student and faculty representatives from universities in the United States.

One of the top five strategies identified for recruiting into the fire protection engineering profession was to target efforts towards women. According to a study conducted as part of the process for establishing the content for the principles and practice of fire protection engineering examination,1 less than 10% of practicing fire protection engineers are women. Increasing the number of women who choose fire protection engineering as a profession could have a significant impact on the total number of people who enter the field.

The low number of women is not unique to fire protection engineering: in the broader field of engineering, women account for 20% of engineering graduates. What's more alarming than this low number is that women only comprise 11% of the engineering workforce.2 Therefore, almost half of all women engineers leave the field after graduating with an engineering degree. So, the engineering profession faces two challenges that must be overcome to increase the number of women engineers: recruit more women into academic programs, and keep those that choose engineering as a profession.

One reason that women do not choose engineering as a career is that they feel that engineering does not provide them an opportunity to help people through their work.3 Women are more likely than men to seek careers where they can help people, and many women perceive that engineering does not offer that opportunity.

Only one in four women who left the field stated that they did so to focus on raising a family.2 The other reasons cited include:

  • Nearly half identified working conditions, too frequent travel, lack of advancement potential, or low salary.
  • One-in-three stated a dislike of the workplace climate, supervisor, or the office culture.

Of the women who have chosen to remain in the engineering workforce, many identified key supportive people within their organization, such as supervisors or co-workers. Conversely, women engineers who felt that they were treated in a condescending or patronizing manner, or were belittled or undermined by their supervisors or coworkers were more likely to leave their employers, and the engineering profession altogether.2


The work of fire protection engineers directly contributes towards making the built environment safer for people, which is consistent with the desire of many women for careers where they can help people.3 And, a career in fire protection engineering pays well.

So, what can fire protection engineers do to make fire protection engineering a more attractive career choice for women? One relatively simple thing would be to highlight how fire protection engineers make the world a safer place when speaking with young women who might consider a career in math, science or engineering. Indeed, "fire protection engineers use science to make our world safe from fire" is one of the "messages" that SFPE has developed to help raise awareness of the profession.4


  1. Kalinowski, B. "Professional Activities and Knowledge/Skills Study for the NCEES Principles and Practice Engineering Fire Protection Examination," National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, Clemson, SC, 2010.
  2. Fouad, N. & Singh, R. "Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering," University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, 2011.
  3. Diekman, A., et al., "Seeking Congruity Between Goals and Roles - A New Look at Why Women Opt Out of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Careers," Psychological Science, 21, 8 pp. 1051-1057.
  4. Hurley, M. "Spreading the Word," Fire Protection Engineering, Winter, 2005, p. 60.

Fire Protection Engineering welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to or by mail to Fire Protection Engineering, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 620E, Bethesda, MD 20814.



We regret that we did not credit Charles Fox of Statewide Fire Protection for three images that appeared in the article entitled "The Monte Carlo Exterior Facade Fire" in the 4th Quarter, 2011 issue. These images appeared on pages 22 (left image), 23 (lower image) and 32.

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